Attorney General Ashcroft said yesterday, while releasing yet another definitely indefinite warning of an imminent terror attack at a place, time and by person or persons unknown, that the American people have "the good, mature capacity to accommodate and understand" present conditions and the need for caution.
It's nice that he thinks so, since no one else seems to. As one old enough to have cast his first presidential vote for John F. Kennedy, I remember shortly thereafter watching a play unfold that, while disturbing at the time, is even more so as reprised today. Within hours of JFK's assassination the national media, which up to that point had generally characterized Lyndon Johnson as a loud, crude, boorish and embarrassing hick, transformed him as if by magic into a deft, wily, extremely able master politician and, quickly thereafter, a statesman.
The reincarnation was dazzling, if transparent to anyone with a 'good, mature capacity to accommodate and understand' manipulation. Clearly we are possessed of - perhaps by - an information machine intent not only onn reporting the news but on determining exactly what we should believe and only too willing to spoon-feed us their selected view lest we lose our way in a swirl of accommodation and understanding.
This self-appointed guardianship has been visible, if in more subtle form, many times since those cruel days, but has returned full blown in recent weeks. Though George Bush's dubious claim on the Oval Office was soft-pedaled through a curiously extended "honeymoon," enough arsenic leaked into the water to show that his intellectual paucity, lack of experience, naked dependence on dad's Cold-Warriors and an apparently genetic lack of vision warned that this was a presidency on terminally thin ice. Until, that is, September 11th.
On that fateful day the savage attacks on our nation not only changed our world forever, as the drumbeat insists, but clearly tripped an internal circuit-breaker, cutting off objectivity and shorting out critical thinking. With the nation in danger, the klaxon brays, circle the wagons and Hail to the Chief!
The promotion given Johnson is understandable, if Bush's is less so, but both emasculate democracy. Rallying the nation is important, but doesn't require that we don a cloak of ignorance and bow in acquiescence. Mere mortals elevated to heroic stature tend to be seduced by their own publicity - with ugly results. Everyone "knew" a trigger-happy Goldwater was a threat to the world, so Mr. Johnson was the man of peace - complete with Tonkin Gulf Resolution.
Today, the inexperienced George Bush, whose inherited handlers may have stolen a national election, is the newly minted Man of the Hour. His destiny, his moment in history has arrived, we're told, and to question his puerile choices defiles the suddenly-omnipresent flag. Patriotism requires obedience; watch what you say. If he declares that our values are under attack, that terrorists are willing to die because they "hate our freedoms," said values can then be ceded and freedoms surrendered by dint of the emperor's new media-supplied coattails.
Never mind that, even though missing in action that first awful day, the punditocracy deemed his ultimate speech a crowning glory and the media megaphone has seen that it so remains. Never mind that he declared war - absent the constitutional authority to so do - on a concept, not a nation. Never mind that he went his father's "line in the sand" one better and chose off anyone with the temerity to disagree: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Never mind that he invoked God's name (as against Allah) in support of our new "crusade."
Never mind that lacking an identifiable target he substituted an easily demonized band of religious zealots by dictating before a world audience terms the Taliban had to refuse in order to save face, sealed the deal by reciting a litany of their strange (to us) religious requirements and avoiding the fact that their current position is a direct result of our own trifling with, then deserting, the region.
Never mind that his "no negotiations, no discussion" ultimatum rebuffed overtures offering bin Laden and freed up a high-tech military campaign complete with errant smart bombs, mushrooming 'collateral damage' of Red Cross warehouses, hospitals, woebegone towns, innocent men, women and children (shades of Timothy McVeigh), a flood of desperate, impoverished refugees promising a humanitarian disaster, instability in Pakistan and elsewhere, an unraveling coalition and a burgeoning crop of terrorist recruits.
Never mind that the real sponsors of al Qaeda, our well-oiled Saudi Arabian allies, remain undisturbed courtesy of geography and SUVs.
Never mind the right wing shoving through their dream agenda disguised as patriotic nation-saving.
A 'good, mature capacity to accommodate and understand,' given the opportunity, might have led to a UN-mandated pursuit of terrorists for crimes against humanity and their prosecution in an international criminal court established for just such a purpose. Maybe then we could deal with terrorists rather than visit calamity on those who have done us no harm.
Oh, never mind.